On Friday night I attended a talk by an Afghan woman from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
. The speaker had been invited to speak in Tübingen by the German "Die Linke" (The Left) party in preparation for a demonstration in Stuttgart on Saturday against the presence of the Bundeswehr
in Afghanistan. The mandate for the Bundeswehr
is going to be debated shortly in the German parliament. The mandate is unpopular among the German population, but enjoys majority support in the parliament.
The speaker, who went by the name of Zoya, told about RAWA's social and political work and the difficult situation in Afghanistan today. Although she said her story was not about history, she made several points that are important from an historical perspective for understanding the current situation there. They are things which are totally under-reported in the western media and, so her argument, lead to a grave misunderstanding of the situation there.
She pointed that from 1992 to 1996, fundamentalists who were hardly better than the Taliban had ruled Afghanistan. They supressed women, raped and murdered and ran a drug economy. Then, from 1996 to 2001, a rival group of very similar fundamentalists, the Taliban, took power and continued the policies. During this period, the people of Afghanistan were crying out for help from the international community. But only after 911 were their calls heard, only after 911 did the world care about terrorism in Afghanistan.
The U.S. invaded the country much differently than the Soviet Union had more than 20 years before. They came with beautiful words on their lips: liberation, democracy. So, according to Zoya, the Afghanis did not resist and threw open their country's gates. But then, disillusionment set in. The U.S. had allied itself with the very fundamentalist forces who had pillaged the country before the Taliban, the various groups of the "Northern Alliance." The result, she argued, has been a catastrophe.
What the western media does not report is that the vast majority of the government (executive, legislative and judiciary) under Karzei is made up of criminals, fundamentalists, warlords and drug lords who continue their reign of terror - but now under the nose of the occupation. She recounted specific stories of high-placed officials, including members of parliament and high-ranking members of the police forces, who are widely known to have raped 12 and 13 year old girls.
She put special emphasis on the situation of women in Afghanistan. Not only are they suffering along with the general population - the hardships of hunger and general terror. But they suffer as women. In the west, we think the women have been "liberated" because they are no longer required by law to wear the burkha. Zoya reported that that is only the law. Women have to keep wearing it if they do not want to be beaten and raped. And wearning the burkha is only a symbol. A normal life is still not possible.
She told about the catastrophic infrastructure, despite the billions of dollars being spent on the country. The Minister of Electricity is commonly referred to as the "Candle Minister." The money is all going into the pockets of the corrupt elite. There is little to no freedom of speech, with critical voices subject to arrest and execution. The occupation forces are also actively doing more harm than good by killing innocent people. She said that if the U.S. was serious about ending terror in Afghanistan, they would get the terrorists. It would take one day to arrest the entire government and send them to the Hague. Since they do not do this, and do not support the truly democratic forces in Afghanistan, she can only conclude that there are other reasons for the occcupation and the so-called Global War on Terror is only an excuse to maintain a strategic presence in the region.
Her solution? End the occupation. The small, weak democratic organizations and individuals see themselves faced on all sides by enemies: the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, the Karzei government, war lords, drug lords - and the 26 occupying powers. If the latter would leave, that would mean fewer enemies to deal with. When asked by a member of the audience if that wouldn't mean that the fundamentalist forces could clamp down all the more, she responded that things cannot get any worse. She said they would rather die a swift death than the protracted death in the current situation. But she also noted that there is hope. Even without the occupation, the outside world could help support the democratic forces in the country.
Asked about ethnic divisions within the country and the danger of a civil war, she reiterated that after 30 years of terror, there is a real danger of a civil war, but it would not be worse than the current situation. The ethnic divisions were real out in the countryside where the illiterate population was under the thumb of the fundamentalists who seek to divide the population for their own interests. But they can be overcome if the circumstances could be changed. There is a real sense of national, Afghan solidarity when it has a chance to express itself.
She ended by telling a little bit about RAWA's social work and emphasizing Afghani responsibility for the fate of her country. It is the responsibility of the Afghanis to fight for their own freedom. The international community can best help by ending the occupation and cutting off all support for the radical, fundamentalist forces currently terrorizing her people.
The local TV station here in Tübingen, Germany, covered the event. Zoya's face was not shown, to keep her from being murdered upon her return home in a number of weeks. It is hard to imagine this young woman with good English, western dress and demeanor will soon be back in Afghanistan, wearing a burkha, blending into the scenery, to continue her underground struggle.